Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, has questioned why the BBC’s chief technology officer, John Linwood, has been the only person suspended over a failed £98 million digital project, claiming that more than one BBC manager was to blame.
It was revealed last month that Linwood was suspended after the BBC closed the curtain on its Digital Media Initiative, which was aimed at creating a digital production system that transformed the way staff developed, used and shared video and audio content.
BBC chief Tony Hall has said that the organisation had wasted a “huge amount of licence fee payers’ money”.
MPs have now accused the BBC of misleading parliament over the “catastrophic” project, reports the Guardian, claiming that its former director general, Mark Thompson, gave evidence to parliament in 2011 that “just wasn’t true”.
Thompson, now chief executive of the New York Times, is likely to be recalled to parliament to explain why he told MPs two years ago that DMI was “out in the business”, that there were “many programmes being made with DMI” and that it had contributed to on-air broadcasts.
Margaret Hodge said that what really ‘shook’ her was that Thompson had claimed that there were parts of the system that were working when it ‘just wasn’t true’. She recalled a letter sent to the BBC Trust in May last year by Bill Garrett, an ex-head of technology for BBC Vision, who described Thompson’s evidence to parliament and the NAO report in 2011 and “exceedingly misleading”.
Hodge said: “So Mr Thompson told us that things were already being used because of this great agile project; then Mr Garrett told us that was not true. Therefore the evidence given to us was not correct at that time and had you given us the correct evidence we might have come to a very different view to the one we came to when we looked at this.”
Margaret Hodge is now questioning why only Linwood has been asked to step down from his post whilst both the BBC and PwC investigate the project. She believes that more than one manager must be responsible and should be held accountable.
Hodge said: “Never let it be said that I’m a conspiracy theorist: This is more than one individual to get to that stage where there are assertions at committee – we gave you a green light on information.
“I know you’ve suspended one individual – but my conspiracy theory would be that there is more than one involved.”
Prior to Linwood, the DMI project was led by Erik Huggers, the ex-director of BBC future, media and technology, who reported to Caroline Thomson, the corporation’s former chief operating officer. Ashley Highfield was chief technology officer when the project was commissioned, but went on to work at Microsoft and later became CEO of Johnston Press. Thomson, who left the BBC in September with a £670,000 payout, has agreed to give evidence to the corporation review being conducted by PwC.
It is expected that the review is likely to report in September.
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